Cultural Connections: Camps Strengthen Staff’s Understanding of Cultural Practices and Teachings

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With contribution from Destanie Tynes

In order to offer continued learning and intertwine social work practice with Indigenous perspectives, Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services Society (VACFSS) offers annual cultural immersion camps for its staff.

The camps bring together employees from across the agency to stay together for two days of immersive cultural teachings. “During your time at the cultural camp, you will have the opportunity to be surrounded by powerful knowledge keepers and healers,” explains Destanie Tynes, a Family Preservation Social Worker who participated in the camp in February 2019. “It also provides you with the chance to meet other VACFSS employees and Elders that you may not get to otherwise.”

One camp helps staff who have not had the opportunity to experience and learn how culture relates to everyday life with the clients they serve. The other camp helps staff transition, strengthen and further refine their cultural practices within the context of families and communities.

At the February cultural camp, David Blacksmith from Cross Lake First Nation in Manitoba, a traditional teacher, healer and an Elder, led the cultural knowledge sharing and teaching.

“The Knowledge Keepers provide amazing teachings that require you to be introspective. If ceremony and Indigenous culture are new to you, the camp offers a way of learning how to first identify what your spirit may need and how to connect with your spirit,” says Destanie. “Learning to listen to what your mind, body and spirit need allows you to start healing yourself within. The cultural camp offers you as person and as a professional a deeper understanding of who you are and what might be missing for you spiritually.”

It’s important to understand the benefits of ceremony in order to encourage our families to connect to their roots.

In addition to learning about yourself, the teachings provide us as professionals a greater understanding of how we can incorporate ceremony into our practice. Incorporating ceremony and Indigenous cultural activities into your practice will provide you with opportunities to create deeper connections with the families we work with, and connect the families themselves to culture. It’s important to understand the benefits of ceremony in order to encourage our families to connect to their roots,” says Destanie.

All employees at VACFSS are encouraged to attend cultural camps, with supervisor approval, if they have not already done so. They next camps are offered in June and October 2019. We hope to see you there!